New Look may open another Belfast store despite recent losses
Fashion chain New Look has said it may open a new store in Belfast despite slumping deeper into the red with annual losses of more than £500m.
The retailer reported pre-tax losses of £522.2m for the year to March 30, against losses of £190.2m the previous year after writing off £402m of goodwill and brand value.
It recently vacated its store at Fountain House in Belfast's Donegall Place, with Primark reopening in the same spot.
New Look executive chairman Alistair McGeorge cautioned trading has come under pressure since the year-end as the recent wet weather takes its toll.
But in an interview, he said the group is considering opening some stores where it has recently closed units, such as Belfast.
Speaking about the overall retail market, he said it was "as challenging as I've ever seen in my lifetime in terms of consumer uncertainty, Brexit uncertainty and weather uncertainty".
"We are not on our own saying it's been a difficult first quarter," he said.
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But the group - which has been shutting stores under a major overhaul - saw sales falls narrow and reported an improved performance at the operating level as it posted underlying profits of £33.2m against losses of £35.7m the previous year.
It reported core like-for-like sales in the UK and Ireland down 1.6% against the 11.6% tumble seen the previous year.
Total group-wide annual revenues fell 3.8% to £1.2bn as it shut stores and focused on more profitable sales. Mr McGeorge said the group was making progress in its overhaul, but stressed there is "more work to do".
"Whilst New Look enters the new financial year in a fundamentally healthier and stronger position, in many respects today marks the starting line," he said.
"We have more work to do to enhance trading and deliver further operational improvements as we continue our turnaround plans."
He added: "We expect the retail environment to remain as challenging as ever in the year ahead, with continued Brexit uncertainty and unseasonable weather impacting trading."
Mr McGeorge also admitted that the group's recent woes had affected its ability to hire new talent.
It has also closed 102 stores largely as part of a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) and has retrenched from overseas markets such as China and eastern Europe.
The group said it was ahead of plan with cost savings of more than £80m.